DES MOINES — There is a new Democratic front-runner in Iowa, and his name is Pete Buttigieg.
The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, holds a clear lead in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, climbing to 25 percent in a new CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers. That marks a 16-point increase in support for Buttigieg since the September CNN/DMR poll. This survey comes on the heels of other recent polls that have shown Buttigieg joining the top tier of the Democratic primary race in Iowa.
Behind Buttigieg, there is a close three-way battle for second with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 16 percent, and former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders each at 15 percent. Since September, Warren dropped six percentage points and Biden slipped five points, while Sanders gained four points.
Surveying the rest of the field, no other candidate gets double-digit support. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar lands at 6 percent, while five candidates register three percent — Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, investor Tom Steyer and businessman Andrew Yang. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has yet to officially announce a 2020 bid, gets two percent. The rest of the field receives one percent or less.
Buttigieg’s significant rise comes in the wake of a heavy investment of time and money in Iowa. Over the last few months, he has built one of the largest on-the-ground operations in the state, supplemented by a robust advertising campaign and strong public appearances. This included a speech at the Democratic Party’s biggest event of the year earlier this month in Des Moines.
His elevated standing in Iowa is grounded in steady support across different demographic groups. He does roughly as well with self-identified Democrats as he does with independents. He also performs about the same with previous caucus goers as first-timers. And his support is nearly even in cities, suburbs, towns and rural areas.
The 37-year-old mayor does slightly better among those with incomes more than $100,000 (32 percent) and with self-described moderates (32 percent). His standing with union households (17 percent) and those who call themselves very liberal (12 percent) is weaker than his overall average.
Another factor that points to Buttigieg’s front-runner status is the 68 percent share of likely Democratic caucusgoers who say he is their first or second choice or being actively considered, up from 55 percent in September. Warren is close behind at 66 percent, though that’s off slightly from 71 percent in September, when she topped the field on that metric.
The Massachusetts senator is the second choice of 20 percent of likely caucusgoers, followed by Buttigieg at 14 percent, and Sanders and Biden each at 13 percent. Harris is now the second choice for 7 percent, down from her 14 percent mark in June — though 36 percent say they are still actively considering her.
The only candidates besides Buttigieg and Warren to hit 50 percent when combining first and second choice and actively considering are Biden at 58 percent (compared to 60% in September) and Sanders at 55 percent (up from 50 percent in September). Harris is now at 46 percent, down nine points from her September score.
Buttigieg’s improved standing can also be attributed to his high favorable rating among likely caucusgoers — 72 percent– the best in the field and up three points from September. Warren’s favorable sits at 71 percent, followed by Biden at 64 percent and Sanders at 61 percent.
The candidates who saw the biggest gains in their favorable ratings from September were Steyer (up 10 points to 37 percent) and Yang (up seven points to 43 percent). Booker and Harris both dipped eight points in terms of their favorability numbers, falling to 52 percent and 55 percent respectively. Bloomberg, meanwhile, saw his favorable rating drop eight points from March, down to 19 percent now. That coincides with a sharp increase in his unfavorable rating, up 20 points to 58 percent, with 30 percent having a very unfavorable view of Bloomberg.
The Goldilocks principle
What applies to porridge may also apply to politics.
In the case of Buttigieg, 63 percent of likely caucusgoers think his views are about right, the highest of the four candidates tested. Only 7 percent say his views are too liberal, while 13 percent feel they’re too conservative.
Biden places second in the “about right” category with 55 percent, though that is down from 70 percent who said so in March. Like Buttigieg, 7 percent say his views are too liberal. But 28 percent say Biden’s views are too conservative.
Nearly half of likely caucusgoers (48 percent) say Warren’s views are about right, compared with 38 percent who think her views are too liberal. A majority of likely caucusgoers (53 percent) deem Sanders’ political views to be too liberal, up from 44 percent in March. Just 37 percent say his views are about right.
The electability argument
For these Democrats, defeating President Trump remains a priority.
Nearly two-thirds of likely caucusgoers (63 percent) say it’s more important to them personally that the winner of the caucus be a candidate with a strong chance of beating Trump. Roughly a third (32 percent) say they want a candidate who shares their positions on major issues.
While there is more confidence in Biden’s ability to win next November, feelings about Warren and Buttigieg are more evenly split on this question. For Warren, 46 percent are almost certain or fairly confident she will prevail, the same as the share who say they’re not very confident or she’s almost certain she will lose. For Buttigieg, it’s 46 percent to 43 percent.
This represents a weakness for Sanders, as 40 percent say they are almost certain or fairly confident about his chances against Trump compared with 53 percent who aren’t very confident or are almost certain he will lose.
Among Biden supporters, 57 percent say they are almost certain he will defeat Trump. Supporters of other contenders aren’t as rosy. It’s 48 percent for Sanders, 35 percent for Warren and 27 percent of Buttigieg supporters. Despite all of Buttigieg’s strengths in this survey, the lack of confidence among his own supporters in his prospects for defeating Trump could be a warning sign given the importance of the electability factor for Democrats.